In America, it’s become customary to start things off with a bang. After all, our two longest standing traditions are shooting things and buying things – preferably shooting the things we’ve bought.
America being the way it is, I’m sure Michael Moore could not have asked for a better way to introduce his new docu-propaganda, “Fahrenheit 9/11.” Shots of Bush demanding the heads of “terrorist killers” during leisurely games of golf and Moore asking congressmen to enlist their children in the army have littered the airwaves in the form of advertising. John Kerry laughs because he’s the one getting the free advertising. I don’t think President Bush thinks it’s so funny. He wanted controversy, and he got it. Moore’s movie is the self-proclaimed “most controversial film of the year,” an unsubstantiated claim, but we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.
Moore inspires intense hatred in his detractors and a passionate admiration among his supporters. I think both these groups are missing the point entirely. What one must understand about Moore is that before he’s a political pundit, he’s an entertainer. He’s at the top of a class of media figures I call “political media clowns.” You don’t watch these people for objective news – you watch to be entertained, to laugh, to get angry and maybe, if they’re really good, to get some original thought hijacked into your politically subjective foray.
These media clowns include pundits like Al Franken and Bill Maher on the left, and the likes of Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter on the right. Going to these people for political objectivity is like going to Del Playa on a Friday night for a quiet and leisurely stroll. The American political discourse has turned into a three-ring circus, with clowns on both sides running around like chickens with their heads cut off, squirting water at each other while we, the American people, laugh. But what more can you expect from a country that rates Fox News as the number one news source in America? In a world where “The Bachelor” is rated higher than “The News Hour with Jim Lehrer,” we’ve asked for pulp in our news, and we have received it. The standards for decency in our political discourse have dropped as low as the standards of an inebriated freshman male on DP.
Yet Moore and his ilk are funny. It’s funny when he rides around Capitol Hill in an ice cream truck reading the USA PATRIOT Act word for word. It’s funny when he harasses congressmen on their way to the Hill. It’s funny when he goes to K-Mart to demand a refund for the bullets lodged in the bodies of Columbine victims. Though Moore may like to think he’s doing some sort of public good through his films, I think deep down inside he knows that he’s also doing it to intrigue us first and, if he’s lucky, get us to think about the issues as well. When we see his movies, we laugh, and he laughs too – only for him, it’s all the way to the bank.
Left- and right-wing media clowns have similar goals – to use sensationalism to appeal to one side of the political spectrum – but differ wildly in terms of style. Left-wingers like Franken, Jon Stewart, Maher and Moore will always be more entertaining than right-wingers like O’Reilly and Coulter. The former, to an extent, know that they’re in it to entertain. The latter actually take themselves seriously. They actually think they’re contributing something substantive to the political discourse, a grave miscalculation when the only difference between them and a group of clowns is that they wear $3,000 suits and don’t don rubber noses.
The way I see it, as long as we as a people are willing to lower our standards with regard to our political discourse, then we deserve exactly what we get. I’m hoping that after the elections the American people will finally wake up from this political haze, hung over but resolute in never indulging these media jesters again.
Neil Visalvanich is a senior history and political science major.